Hollywood films influence attitudes globally. Female movie superheroes are rare but television shows do a better job of providing smart women in staring roles. However teen girls are often portrayed as mean girls like the US TV show of the same name or the Australian series Ja’mie: Private School Girl about a spoiled girl played by a male actor. Sleepover (2004) is one of many US teen dramas about mean popular girls versus the smart nicer girls in high school. The film is about girls graduating from eighth grade, worried about how they’ll fit in high school and if they’ll be able to eat lunch at the popular spot by The Fountain. They do one kind act, including a girl who is slightly chubby and is used to being invisible. Otherwise, their concerns are trivial with two cliques of girls in competition to sit at the fountain. The main character’s big moment is kissing a hunky guy she has a crush on. He was attracted to her when she expertly skateboarded past him wearing a sexy adult red dress.
The media still has many more male characters who have more speaking time, and female actors are five times as likely to be shown in sexy clothes.[i] Women were 28% of featured roles in Hollywood’s most popular films in 2012, an increase of only 7% since 2007.[ii] Over a third of these women were dressed to be sexy or shown partially nude, including well over half of the teenage actors. The Bechdel Test (named after an American cartoonist) was created to rate movies for their gender balance, then used to test other media. The bar is set low: An “A” rating goes to a movie that includes two women talking to each other about something other than a man. Sometime a requirement is added that the women be named. Women certainly are not heard equally as documented by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media. More Hollywood films are passing the Bechdel test than before, but the institute reported the percentage has “flatlined at about half over the last 20 years, and women don’t make up any more than 20 percent of producers, directors and writers across the board.”[iii]
Women were only 29% of major characters in the top selling films in 2013, only 30% of characters who said something, and more likely to be identified by their marital status than men.[iv] Only 28% of characters in family films were women. In children’s PG movies, only 17% of the people are female with very little progress over the last two decades.[v] A study of 120 films from 11 countries released between 2010 and 2013 reported women had only 31% of the speaking roles and only 23% had a female protagonist.[vi] Women and teen girls were sexualized, showing more skin, while women were rarely shown in STEM jobs. Films with a female director or writer had more girls and women on screen and the countries with the most female leads (40%) were Australia, China, and Japan.
[i] The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and the Media. A 2005 study of G-rated movies and children’s TV. http://www.thegeenadavisinstitute.org/research.php
[ii] Tracy Bloom, “Hey Hollywood, Remember the Ladies?”, Truthdig, May 16, 2013.
[iii] Adam Sherwin, “Bechdel Tested,” The Independent, April 2, 2014.
[iv] Martah Lauzen, “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World,” The Guardian, March 11, 2014.
[vi] Stacy Smith, et al., “Gender Bias Without Borders,” Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 2014.